Friday, May 6, 2011

How a Map Divided Virginia

I love old maps.  Seeing the landscape as others did in the past helps us understand their actions better.  Such is the case with the unusual propoganda maps highlighted by the New York Times in its Disunion series yesterday.

On the verge of the Civil War, Virginia wrestled with whether to secede.  The first two proposals to do so were defeated.  As the Times explains:

"This was partly a matter of geography: slavery was relatively rare in the western counties, and as the crisis intensified residents there began to see secession as primarily driven by the interests of slaveholders. As easterners became more strident about their rights, those in the west began to see themselves as a separate group with fundamentally different interests."

Virginia voted to secede on May 23rd, and three days later, federal troops crossed the Ohio River into the western counties, to support them in their efforts to secede from Virginia and stay in the Union.  In a complementary effort, the United States Coast Survey released a map of Virginia that was the first to use U.S. Census data cartographically.  It highlighted the concentration of slaves in Virginia counties by shading -- the darker the county, the more slaves, the lighter the county, the fewer.  A second version even drew a line around the western counties and dubbed them "Kanawha."

There is much more information in the article about the Union's use of maps to highlight divisions within the Confederacy.  A very interesting article about the power of maps!

Tanya Marsh

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Thanks for this fun and exciting overview. The history of West Virgina-Virginia is so interesting. Although, I don't get to watch television that much nowadays, there is a new show called "How the States Got Their Shapes" on the History channel that I have been watching. You may be interested in it as well.

Thanks again,


Posted by: Michael | May 6, 2011 9:01:38 AM

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